The First Political Prisoner Released by Mikhail Gorbachev Reflects on His Legacy

Sept. 1 2022

On Tuesday, the former Soviet dictator Mikhail Gorbachev died at the age of ninety-one. His death has been followed by many accolades for having “ended”—that is to say, recognized defeat in—the cold war. Natan Sharansky agrees that Gorbachev deserves credit for having “perceived the direction of history and responded accordingly,” but presents a more “complicated” view of his career:

It was only after 250,000 demonstrators convened in Washington in 1987 to support Soviet Jews, greeting Gorbachev during his first visit as Russia’s leader with chants of “Let Our People Go!,” that the Iron Curtain began to come down.

Freer emigration from the USSR quickly led to demands by religious and national groups for self-determination. This, too, Gorbachev resisted, sending troops to Georgia, Lithuania and elsewhere, killing dozens of demonstrators in the process. The dissident Andrei Sakharov, whom Gorbachev released in late 1986 and who initially appeared to be the leader’s natural ally, spent the last years of his life actively fighting against Gorbachev’s attempts to save the single-party system and to avoid competition in Soviet elections.

I was the first political prisoner to be released by Gorbachev, in early 1986, and upon liberation, I was immediately asked whether I wanted to thank him for my freedom. I replied that I was grateful to all those who fought for my release, including fellow Jews and foreign leaders, because I understood that without their fight, it would not have happened. At that time, I deliberately avoided thanking Gorbachev because, with so many of my fellow dissidents still in prison and emigration still not permitted, I felt it would be irresponsible and even disloyal to give him credit.

But Gorbachev was a product of the Soviet regime, a member of its ruling elite who believed its ideology and enjoyed its privileges—yet decided to destroy it nevertheless. For that, the world can be grateful. Thank you, Mikhail Gorbachev.

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Read more at Washington Post

More about: Cold War, Mikhail Gorbachev, Natan Sharansky, Refuseniks, Soviet Union

 

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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Read more at 19FortyFive

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship